Kasey Hill eliminates worries about toe injury by providing spark

Florida Gators guard Kasey Hill (0) drives to the basket against Albany Great Danes forward Gary Johnson (20) during the second half.

Kim Klement/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

ORLANDO, Fla. — Billy Donovan played the waiting game with backup point guard Kasey Hill.

Would he play or would he sit? And if Hill did play, how effective would he be?

Hill suffered a right turf toe injury when he collided with teammate Michael Frazier during Wednesday’s practice. He was questionable prior to No. 1-ranked Florida’s game against No. 16 seed Albany on Thursday afternoon here at the Amway Center.

The final call was up to UF trainer David "Duke" Werner, who taped Hill’s toe at the morning shootaround Thursday and let him loose.

Hill was able to go but Donovan still had doubts.

"I didn’t know what I would get out of him," Donovan said. "I don’t know how much pain he was in. He never really said anything to me about it."

Billy D didn’t have anything to fret over.

Florida vs. Albany

The Gators got plenty from the 6-foot-1 Hill in their 67-55 win over the Great Danes to open the NCAA Tournament. Hill even blocked a shot, swatting away a second-half attempt by 5-foot-9 Albany guard DJ Evans.

The most important contribution from Hill was energy. He provided it when the Gators needed it most.

With the game tied 39-39 and under 15 minutes left, you could sense the orange-and-blue clad fans packed Amway Center wondering exactly where this was going.

Soon, they could relax.

Patric Young converted a 3-point play after grabbing a missed layup by Will Yeguete. Florida led by three.

The Gators pulled away slowly from there with the help of four consecutive points from Hill on a layup and a pair of free throws.

Hill scored all 10 of his points in the second half and added two steals. He was 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.

"He was really important," starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "I don’t know what would have happened if he didn’t come out and play like that. He was aggressive. He got in the lane. He made plays. He was aggressive on defense, got his hand on balls. He was good."

Hill had one of the best games of his freshman season in the regular-season finale against Kentucky win eight points and seven assists. He scored seven points and dished five assists in the SEC Tournament win over Missouri, but in Florida’s final two games in Atlanta, Hill only played a combined 29 minutes and was in foul trouble in Sunday’s championship game against Kentucky.

Hill wasn’t thinking about his toe or the past couple of games following Thursday’s performance.

"I knew I was going to be able to play," Hill said. "I just left it up to Duke, and he got me ready for the game. He did a nice tape job on my toe."

With the toe not a factor, what was the difference?

"I wasn’t in foul trouble like I was last game," he said. "But just playing with confidence, playing aggressive and trying to do whatever I can to help the team."

Hill averages 5.5 points and 3.1 assists and when he is playing well, can allow Wilbekin to move to shooting guard to give Michael Frazier II a rest or to alter Florida’s offensive look.

Donovan was grateful for Hill’s effort in a game the Gators did not play their best.

"I thought Kasey coming off the bench there in the second half gave us really great minutes," Donovan said. "[He] was a real spark for us."

Casey Prather seconded that.

"He was great," Prather said. "He did an unbelievable job playing the type of basketball he plays. I told him in the second half, get out of yourself and just go play like you play."

Hill did. At the perfect time.